Winter or The Knowledge of Cold

After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season.

Okay, okay, okay…I know what you’re all going to say about this post before I even write it. I know it hasn’t been “that” cold this season and I know that I have been here hating the misery of winter for eternity so my sudden decision to mostly embrace the misery seems almost comical. Please, let me type it all out though. February can be relentlessly long and bitterly cold, I need to have proof that I can make it. Here it is; my winter joy (thanks for that one Brooke) in 2020.

This week I initiated an outdoor activity with my children three times.

Please, do you know how amazing that is for me? First let’s remember that it is January and while the highs had been in the 20’s, I am a firm 30 degree “low” kind of girl. We have a foot or more of snow on the ground too, which is lovely to look at, but toes freeze even in boots when you’re standing around in it. One day we went out it was only 18 degrees…eighteen…who even am I?

A couple of times this winter I have asked a friend if her kids wanted to come skate at the rink near our house before open gym. The days have been mild if grey, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to deal with the cold for the good of the children, and I did. It was only an hour and it was actually fun. Then another friend invited us to skate, we stayed out longer and I may have later whispered to my husband how much I enjoyed skating.

Cut to this week.

This past week was a hard one for me. My babygirl turns twelve in four days and that feels bigger than I am ready for. She gets to go on a great trip, one that I am firmly not ready for her to go on, which takes her away at a time of year when I need sameness. It’s been dark, cloud-covered, frigid. The littles have been bickering endlessly. The teensy has been trying to sleep better, but it’s up and down. My seasonal dip toward depression has been nearing it’s low point…plus we are closing in on a mental season that is hard for me. Six weeks from now marks a tragic anniversary that brings an almost physical weight to my body. This next month will be marked in a countdown of memory.

As you read that I want you to feel it, like really, really. This past Wednesday I was done. I had gone to my room, shut the door and lay down to cry. The endless fighting, the back talk, the rudeness in my house was too much on top of the mental load I carry around this time of year. I couldn’t do it and I knew it. I knew that I could not stay in this house with my people and make it to the end of another winter. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay here when I could have made the choice to go somewhere, anywhere, else.

And then I did it.

I wiped my eyes, mostly. I went back out to my children, told them that there were things that needed doing whether we wanted to do them or not. Then I told them to put their snow pants on. I took them to the sledding hill in town. It was the middle of the day and we had the hill to ourselves. It was gray and cold, but we slid down the hill fast and trudged back up together slowly for nearly two hours. I looked down at the teensy once and said; “who knew your momma left her smile out here in the snow?” and I almost cried again right there.

I came home that day and I knew. It all added up. There was joy out there on that hill in the snow. Joy in how we played together and laughed together. There was just as much fun in the snow as there had been hiking last Autumn. Just as many smiles as swimming in the lake last Summer. Just as much squealing as splashing in Spring rain at the end of the driveway….we were having fun. In winter. I posted to my Facebook about how odd it was, if you follow along over there you’ll know how little I post and you’ll recognize some of these photos, but I needed to get it out of my head quickly and down on paper that I really, really, had fun!

We skated again with friends on Thursday and on Friday we went back to the hill with more friends. In just three days I spent close to six hours outside. That may be more time than I have spent outdoors voluntarily in January ever. And I loved it…weird.

There was no big change. No sudden realization. It seemed like an acceptance more than anything else. This is where I choose to live. These are the people I choose to do life with every day. This (being stuck inside or feeling forced to go outside) is no way to live. It is simple survival and I do not want to model survival for my children, I want to show them how to thrive. More than that though, I actually want to thrive, not just for them, but because this is my only life, my only chance.

So I went outside.

Yes, in January and yes in the snow and yes at 18 degrees. And despite literal years of protestations; I didn’t die. I had actual fun. At the end of each of these three days I felt like the girl that I am in Summer when we are snuggled into our camper bed after a full day on a state park trail. I felt infused with joy. The fresh, cold air had filled each particle of my being. There is a great deal of grace here. Do you know? After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season. This is quite unexpected.

I know this is only a small window into my days and a minute peek into my vast wintertime experience. I know that next week there are highs forecast in the teens and my own preteen will be far away and I may feel that tug toward darkness and sadness. The desire to hide under blankets may overwhelm me once more. That’s why I had to write this down, I need to be able to see that I felt good with afternoons spent outside. Not just a little better. I didn’t just make it through the day without yelling. I wasn’t only able to survive because I got some fresh air. I was able to thrive, to lighten, to breathe…

That seems a smidge dramatic.

As a sort of closing to this ramble I am placing a challenge here. Not for you, though you could choose it for yourself as well, but a challenge for me. To continue out in all weather, regardless of it’s perceived goodness. I may be cold. I may get wet. I may not love every minute of it, but I can see now how I need it. Like really, really. Just as much as I need my toes in the dirt and the sun on my back I need the icy air in my lungs. I am not merely a child of sunshine, but of outside, I can see how being indoors wrecks me. I will give in to this knowledge and not remain stuck in the lie that inside is safe and warm and somehow better. I will force myself and my people out the door into the wider world because I am better when I am out here. There is no longer any doubt.

If you need a push to get out, may this be a gentle encouragement to you. I have honestly hated winter since childhood, if I can go out and find some sense of self, some bit of internal sunshine, then I know it can come to any of us. The winter is long dear friends, maybe we needn’t be sucked into misery for it’s duration…maybe.

Digging Out

All that day I wondered over that old life skill put to use in this completely foreign to it place. About a time and space where I learned a lot, just enough to get out as it was.

Yesterday my oldest daughter tried to back out of her apartment parking spot only to slide sideways and get good and stuck in the deep snow behind her. She has never been stuck in the snow, never slid into the ditch, never slipped sideways and scared on a dirt road, at least not that she’s ever told me about. She called her dad and he called me to go see if I could help her dig out, help her get re-parked and help her realize that this happens to pretty much everyone at least once. So I loaded up littles and shovels and drove across town.

The roads were slick, but I was not worried. In my previous life I had dug myself out of snowed in driveways many times, and had to call for help quite a few times as well. I’d helped to push and helped to turn steering wheels this way and that. I knew what to do. I giggled at her when I pulled in and she was a good sport. We dug a little, pushed a bit, tried a few tricks that I knew. We almost had it. Then I shut the car door as I hopped out and…the door locked. Oh shit. I felt dumb.

There was little to do aside from laugh again, so we pushed a bit more, dug more snow from under the car. A kind neighbor brought some salt and sand over and poured it behind her tires while she called around trying to find a spare key that wasn’t far off. Turns out we had one at home. We drove away, grabbed the keys, opened her doors, got her pushed her out. She smiled big, and made me caramel brownies to say thanks, she’s a pretty good kid.

All that day I wondered over that old life skill put to use in this completely foreign to it place. I wrote about the last decade of my life this past week and I suppose that I’m still resting in that mental space. It’s been a long ago time, but I once wrote about a now distant fear I had. About a time and space where I learned a lot, just enough to get out as it was. If you feel much like jumping back to either post you might get a teensy bit more out of this one, and I’d love to hear what you think. It was good to dig the girl out though, in doing so, it felt like one of those lessons I’m always circling back to maybe cycled closed.

Do you know what I mean? I don’t feel that fear anymore, that inability to speak up and tell myself, if not some other person, that I got this. It’s no longer necessary for my heart or my brain to ask someone else to do much of anything for me anymore…this is a whole other issue and I’m not heading that direction with this post. To know that I can do any of the things, well, it makes me smile big. It helps me know that I can teach these kids to do “it”, whatever “it” is. It’s an all too infrequent reminder that I once was afraid; and now, well, now I’m not.

I have to give the credit for this to God. I mean, I really did try to put myself in bad places when I was younger. I definitely should’ve seen what was coming, but I turned a blind eye to my own gut response. In walking away too there could have been a lot more bad than good. I believe the only reason that there was not is because God stepped in and reminded me Whose I am. Through all of the trails I backtracked and all of the paths I recrossed over the years I know He was leading me, always circling back so that I wouldn’t forget those lessons that were most needed by my soul.

Even after I left it took years for the gripping anxiety to let go of me. I was not one to trust that it would all be alright, I had to keep seeing the worst, focusing on what could happen, dipping into the worry pot over and over again. The more I focused on God though, the more I saw that all would be well. Even now in this season where I reevaluate the budget and try to figure how to put a tax refund to good use I still sometimes forget that there has always been enough and there will always be enough and I will never be lost to Him and that is all that matters. There are days when I have to get out of my head and remember.

Remember that never for one minute was I lost to Him. Never once did He step away. Never once was I stuck in a place that He could not, would not, dig me out of. In all of God’s goodness and grace He was always there, leaning in close, whispering that I could do it. Not in my own power of course, but in relying on His. The hindsight is always so clear isn’t it? I often wonder why I could not have seen even a smidge of this path ahead of time, but then…would I have chosen it? Chosen to walk this rough and rocky road? Yeah, not likely.

The place in my journey now seems less difficult, I often sit in the quiet of the morning and wonder if that is because I see God more clearly now, listen more carefully for His voice? Or, is it because the path is smooth that it is easier for me to see His hand in my days? I repeatedly remind myself that it is the former. I know in the deepest parts of me that the good would not come without God. There was no way to get to this knowledge of Him without it coming from Him.

It’s good to know that there is only so much left up to me. If I stay on the track that is marked out for me, paying attention to the guide, I will not stumble. Even as the road is still rocky and sometimes filled with snow. I’m not sure how much this ramble will mean to you today, but it is speaking to my own heart in the pouring-out of it. Often that is all that I really want from these posts; therapy in the telling of my days.

There are things I can do now, that I was once afraid to do. And I smile, glad in this knowledge, not that I am stronger, but that my God is. I stumbled across Psalm 17 in this search for a path, and this is where I leave you today. It’s only a handful of verses and I encourage you to read the chapter in it’s entirety. Verses five and six are mine though, written for me and written on my heart as well.

“My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled. I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.”

Ice

Today I drug my over-tired, crabby, mopey self over to the rink by our house. The kids needed to move and I know the temps are dropping so I forced myself to go.

You just never can tell where you might find your smile…

Sometimes you simply must do the thing so that you don’t succumb to the dark place bubbling inside of you.

This day it was necessary for me to take the sleep-deprived, frozen, close to angry version of myself and lace up skates. Without this excursion I would have curled up under the covers and cried, not even kidding a little.

The ice was good, the shadows deep, the sunlight filtered, the air just cold enough. Our laughter was loud.

My time outdoors is short in winter, but today it was good, today I was thankful for clear ice and sharp skates. I’m a smidge worried about the cold ahead and how hard it’s going to hit me, maybe skating will help. I’ll at least hope that it does.

Peace in the cold is a good thing to find. For a few minutes today, out in the cold, it wasn’t really so bad being “stuck” in this place. It was almost joyful, maybe even fun.

Contentment

Y’all have been here for awhile. You know me. I don’t like the cold. I do not look forward to sweaters and boots. I could easily walk away from this state for several months each year and live happily (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that). Last winter was a hard one for me, I went into it with a much better attitude and I held onto that positivity well into January. The season dragged on though, it always does. Do what you will to save your own sanity; stay in Autumn until the winter solstice, reach out and grab Spring while there is still a foot of snow on the ground. The ice and snow, sub-zero temps, layers upon layers…I can not love it.

I do hope to avoid the endless slog of sadness this winter though. I’m going to make an attempt to photograph and write about the things that bring me joy. Joy on the journey; that’s sort of one of my “things”. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go, but I have some ideas. My hope is that in sharing the things that are beautiful and warm and meaningful here on this page I can stay afloat just a bit higher this year. I want to look at this winter as a season of rest, a time to nourish and refresh. Instead of as the cold, dark place in my soul that I fall into and struggle to escape.

Please understand that I will not anticipate or be loving the winter, but I’d like to do more than survive it. The last few days I’ve felt myself slipping into bad winter-time habits; hiding indoors, sending my children out while I stay in, bundling myself in with books and blankets, not stepping out around the fire on the deck for fear of the chilly bite in the air. I am not going to do this for the next six months, I am not. I mean, except for the book part…totally going to do that.

As Autumn continues to swirl the yellow leaves in my yard as opposed to swirling snow I am choosing now to look at each good thing for what it is, not at what it is not. The leaves are crunchy under my feet, my scarf is soft and warm, the sky is clearest blue…these individual joys hold merit on their own. They do not have to be made better by comparing them with the cold-that-is-not-quite-yet-here. I know this now, but I’m posting reminders on my calendar to come back and reread these words, lest I forget.

My attitude change toward winter is a hard fought battle for me, you all know. Earlier this Summer, in deciding to stay, I found that Paul’s words came to me again and again; “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” (from Philippians 4). Don’t get me wrong, winter is nowhere near the conditions Paul is referring to, I get that. I will not compare my minuscule “suffering” to his. What I did do though is realize that my struggle with winter was not what God wanted from or for me. Yes, I believe He wanted to hear all of my complaints, to trust Him for a way out, to listen to His peace spoken in the still, small hours of frozen mornings. He also wanted me to learn, to grow, to not stay in that place where I could not, at least, be content regardless of the weather outside.

To be content has become my goal for the season ahead. I am reminding myself that contentment comes from Christ. I can (and oh! have I) worry over all. of. the. things., but this will bring my soul no rest. There is no contentment in my old fallback anxiety. I worry still, that I will succumb to the darkness and despair over the winter as I have in the past. In this worry I remembered some more of Paul’s words though and they reminded me how very not-alone I am. Both in my hatred of the season and in my desire to find joy in it.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (from chapter 4, verse 14)

I have an amazing circle of women who I will rely on to keep me on a positive track and who will allow me to complain a bit too. I am hopeful that they will continue to “share in my troubles” and that we will lift each other up without fear of giving too much. I will beg a lot of grace from my family when I don’t want to go out, and they remind me of these words, and I regret writing them because it means actually bundling up and going out, and they will give it because they are so, so good to me. It will be so good of all of you to share in my troubles.

Ultimately, I have no idea how to make this Minnesota winter, and the many I can see in my future, positive. I’m open to suggestions that do not involve actually going out into it! I’m looking for ideas that will be fulfilling, while remembering who I am fundamentally. So, while I will likely take the kids ice skating a handful of times, I have no desire to purchase snowmobiles or an ice fishing shack. Though I will take them sledding, I will still be happier to make the cocoa when we get home. There will be long underwear under my jeans and there will be stocking caps on my head until May, and I refuse to be happy about either, but I will choose to be content in the love and peace God continues to offer me.

My kids on the beach in South Texas last year…one of my favorite wintertime memories!

Asters

The air moves slower, though the wind hurries the clouds across the moon. Bees and butterflies alike rest on the hardy asters, soaking in the sunshine and beauty of these Autumn days. Busy still, but seemingly unhurried somehow. As if they know the gathering is important, but so is the joy you take in the process. Especially now, when winter is knocking hard and heavy at the door.

I sit with them. Knowing the tasks that need be done before the season truly turns. Trusting in the perfect combination of days to ensure enough sunshine is absorbed while the necessary is completed. Feeling in my soul that the only necessity is enough warmth stored in my bones to last through February.

The Autumn slows me every year. Causing me to look hard at the activities I’ve signed us up for and the plans I’ve made. It asks me if all of this busy is sustainable, required, good? Have I allowed enough time in my week for serving those who need help? Have I filled the hours too full to be there when a friend is in need? Do I spread myself too thin to give my best to the ones I most dearly love?

I’m hoping for nights by the fire without snow on the ground yet this fall. Perhaps those moments will be stolen from required tasks. I hope to invite my most dear loves to sit quiet in the final blaze of Autumn. Not rushing to the next thing, rather enjoying this moment as it is, for what it is. For what it is, is no less than what is needed.

Stopping to Scratch Out a Thought

Friends ask how I’m doing with the staying.

I smile and nod.

Say that I am doing well. Filling the Summer to the brim with what I love.

Leech Lake, Walker, MN

There are thoughts I don’t speak, feelings I don’t share, my life is a gift and a blessing and I know it.

And I dig another row of sod out of the backyard. Move plants. Smile at new growth. Listen to the wind in the trees and the cars in the road.

And wonder if it is enough. Always wonder.

Why there have been so many “no’s”. What God is holding behind His back for me. What better is to come. Is this goodness that I need…more than the goodness that I want?

And I dig another row in the earth. Scatter plants to friends and neighbors alike. Cut the grass, drown the sound of the world with the music in my head. Watch the dog rest in the freshly turned soil. This life is a gift…

Yet…I frown at the work I create for myself. Busy my hands with growing, lifting, supporting. Both children and perennials. The occasional smile as something tender blossoms under my care.

How am I? I sit with this question and dirt under my nails. Really, really good. This is true, but in choosing to stay the ache has not disappeared. The desire to run still so strong somedays that the tears blur the words I try to scratch out.

Today is one of those days.

As the press of Autunn weighs heavy on my calendar and in my heart.

There is still time I tell myself.

Time to wander in the woods. Time to get lost in the fields. Time to disappear into the surf…someday.

There is time.

Today is for digging. Perhaps tomorrow there will be something different. Either way this day, this life, this moment is a gift and I know it.

I Want You to Know

If you’re wondering what’s going on with us, please read this post.

There are many thoughts that fill my head. More ramblings that roll through my mind than y’all would ever care to read about here. Often I think so long on something that I feel everyone in my circle must understand, even if I had never actually vocalized the thoughts. The last few days have found me wondering about all of the things we have. I have written, though not in a very long time, about the ways my family has been abundantly blessed over the years. People have have given to us, we have stumbled across things, opportunities have just worked out more than I can remember.

All of these gifts and met-needs have filled our home with comforts. I scribble down thanks for these comforts daily. Over the last few days I was caught off guard when several dear friends told me that they didn’t fully know of our plan to escape the Minnesota cold. While we don’t really anticipate leaving anytime soon, we do hope to go, and we are planning accordingly. This is one of those things that is so often on my mind, I had felt that everyone must know. I was wrong, and glaringly so. These two seemingly random ramblings; my overwhelming blessings and my inability to vocalize the thoughts in my head do actually go together…just give it a minute please.

I’ve been wondering why I have so much. I mean, I didn’t really set out the second time around to have this typical American dream with the picket fence and two fancy cars in the garage. Yet here I sit.

I’m not complaining, please let me explain.

Post-divorce things got tricky for us. Jobs lost and given up, a new baby, blending a family that was not so sure it wanted mixing at times. We were in a bad financial place and all I could do was to pray. I asked for enough money to pay the bills. I asked for toys and activities for my children. I asked for friends and a community. I asked for the gas in my car to make it through the week. I asked for a home with a yard, a place to call ours. All of the things I prayed for through tears and with a very humbled heart I was given.

Hear me.

Hear me when I say that there was often not enough money to pay all of the bills, that my children did go without a lot of things other kids have, that I had to work to build a community twice, that very often the gas was not enough to get through the week., that the house we were given took a lot of work and a few years to become a home. Sometimes Frequently the prayers are not answered in the way we expect.

Now though.

As I look around this over-large house full of all sorts of things that I’d consider luxury, I wonder over the gift it all is. And I feel a bit ungrateful to think of walking away from it all. I feel like I am being wasteful of His gifts to me by seeing now that I no longer need or want all of this. Why would He have met these wants if they were just wants? Surely the creator would have known that I’d arrive here, in a place where the wants would be excess and the gifts would be nearly burdensome? This has something to do with First John 3:1 I think.

Yet here I am.

The only way I can rationalize it is in somehow paying it all forward. As I begin to think about discarding things, begin to wonder about selling off pieces of this American dream I also wonder how we can do some sort of good in the lives of our community. How this will look is uncertain to me, but I want to donate to more than just the Goodwill. I’ve asked to see the people in need in my community; read my personal community, not only the place where I live. I’m asking to offer up what I have because it is so much more than we need. I don’t yet know how this looks, but I hope that I see it as it is happening.

That I don’t miss it.

 

 

I want to know, I guess, that all I’ve been given is not wasted. That the notes of thanks I’ve written out continue to have meaning to someone, even if I am no longer that someone. I think about this a lot. And that is why I’m writing it down here to share to you, because I don’t want my circle of friends to miss this or feel as though I didn’t mention it.

I want you to know.

I want you to know that I see the needs you have, and while I may not be the one to meet them, I trust the One who will. I want you to know and so I (hope to follow through with this) will talk about what is going on with us and our stuff in person with you. I will make more of an effort to share with my dear friends where we are on this journey toward less stuff and more happiness.

It may be slow, but it will be deliberate.

The choices we are making today may end up not being the ones we want to live with ten years from now, but as I don’t regret any of the things I have asked for up till now I am sure that asking for this opportunity to travel, to live where there is more warmth and sunshine, to do something that feels selfish, but right… I trust that these prayers will be answered and that I’ll take each day as the gift it is. That is, I think, how I can show my appreciation and gratitude.